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Let's Talk About Jewish Horror (And Then Let's Keep Talking About It)

I was born into an interfaith household. Jewish mother. Catholic father. I was raised Jewish—am Jewish—and grew up around some, if not a lot of, Catholic culture. Still, most of what I know about Christianity was learned from two primary sources as a kid: The History Channel circa 1998 and horror movies. There are countless exorcism movies out there, with a priest holding a cross reciting prayers over the possessed. Now, I know to take all movie depictions with a grain (or pound) of salt, but one thing was very clear: when it comes to mainstream horror stories, Christianity has long been a default pillar. I can understand why. Horror as a genre has deep ties with religious lore. It makes for compelling, relatable storytelling to engage with faith. But it's a little less relatable when someone is shouting the power of Christ compels you! onscreen and you're sitting there thinking to yourself ummm…the power of Christ doesn't really do anything to me...

For over 20 years I have been writing fiction—I was about seven or eight when I started—but I wrote my first Jewish horror story in 2020 at the age of 30. It was called "A Purim Story" and in 2021, it was published by the Denver Horror Collective in The Jewish Book of Horror. This anthology features over 20 tales steeped in Jewish lore and Jewish identity. To this day, I've never read anything like it the stories I had the honor of being published alongside within the pages of this book. Each story explores a different facet of Jewish lore, culture, tradition, or history.

I had no idea there were that many Jewish horror stories to tell because I had never heard any of them before. I knew a golem was a cryptid-type thing but didn't know much about the origin. In fact, prior to my inclusion in this book the most significant Jewish representation I'd seen in horror was with a 2012 film called The Possession, about a little girl who opens a box and releases a dybbuk (malicious spirit). I liked the movie but then I didn't see another Jewish horror film until Keith Thomas's The Vigil (2019) when I watched it in 2021. Even then, it was a film I sought out. I didn't happen to see it like so many of the Christianity-centered horror I've viewed on television or gone to the movies to see. Googling was required in order to find somewhere I could rent The Vigil.

If Jewish horror movies were hard to find when I was growing up, Jewish horror books felt like the holy grail (yup, can't even think of a Jewish simile, had to go with a Christian one). This is not to say that they don't exist. They do. But for years I didn't know they existed and access to that information felt like it needed to be openly sought. Walk into any bookstore in America and you can probably still find a copy of The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. The same cannot be said of Bari Wood's The Tribe, which is one of the better known Jewish horror novels and best accessible today thanks to the Paperbacks from Hell series from Valancourt Books.

But lately, things have felt different. Maybe being in The Jewish Book of Horror woke me up, but I've started to notice more and more Jewish lore in the horror community. As a writer and a reader, I'm thrilled at what indie presses in particular are doing. This year alone, Zachary Rosenberg has two Jewish novellas coming out, the western Hunger as Old as This Land (out in May from Brigids Gate Press) and the pulp detective story The Long Shalom (coming soon from Off Limits Press). The novel Charwood by Josh Schlossberg, editor of The Jewish Book of Horror, will be published by an imprint of Madness Heart Press later this year. In a 2022 HWA interview for Jewish Heritage month, Bird Box author Josh Malerman said he had two projects with Jewish characters he was hoping would come out soon.

This gives me hope that with the recent horror boom (I saw a dedicated horror section at Barnes and Noble for the first time just a few years ago) we will see more diversity and more opportunity to explore Jewish horror within this space⁠—and not just one or two types of Jewish horror. There are stories to be told from all corners of all spectrums. I am cis and straight and white with OCD and generalized anxiety. That's the place from which I approach Jewish horror. But that's just one place. Horror, particularly indie horror, isn't just about a handful of voices—it's a place where we are getting to hear from a wide range of lived experiences.

In another 2022 HWA interview for Jewish Heritage Month, Brenda S. Tolian, also featured in The Jewish Book of Horror and author of Blood Mountain from Raw Dog Screaming Press, was asked about the future of educating readers and authors on Jewish culture in the horror sphere. She said:

I hope there is more. More Jewish voices, more LGBTQ+A voices, more POC voices,

more women’s voices. It’s not up to the writers; we submit—I challenge the

publishers/agents to put their money where their mouths are and liberate the

submission box and raze the gates.

Tolian's words really resonate with me. I'm excited and optimistic about the road ahead. I know it's not easy and there is still a great deal of work to be done, but there are talented writers out there with diverse, dynamic horror stories to share. And I, for one, can't wait to read them.

Recently, I learned that a Jewish horror story I wrote has been accepted into the upcoming Monster Lairs anthology edited by Anna Madden from Dark Mater INK. And you know what feels really good? Mine isn't the only Jewish story that will be included. There was a time when I couldn't imagine an anthology like this accepting more than one Jewish story, but here we are. This press has space us. The genre has space for us. And that's progress.

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2 comentarios

14 mar 2023

Great article ! Emily is such a talented writer - your fans await eagerly to read what you write next ! We too are looking forward to the road ahead !!!!

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13 mar 2023

Very interesting article.

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